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Investing in Women

14 Dec

 

Want to make a social impact with your everyday purchases? Then, read the book Buy the Change you Want to See, by Jane Mosbacher Morris. (The book will be published at the end of January by Penguin Random House.) Morris is the CEO of To the Market that sells products from women artisans in vulnerable communities. She works with 100 suppliers from more than 20 countries.

Morris educates consumers on how thoughtful purchases can transform lives. She explains the second largest industry in the developing world is the artisan arena — sewers, beaders, leather makers, etc. To the Market connects artisans to factories to buyers. The ripple effect of purchasing a product from a country like Haiti can create positive change and economically empower several people.

 

I had the opportunity to hear Jane speak at the Jewish Women’s Foundation of the Greater Palm Beaches (JWF) event Imagine the Possibilities in West Palm Beach. (Disclosure: I was the co-chair)

The event theme was Investing in Women as the mission of the Foundation and the book align perfectly. The Jewish Women’s Foundation mission advances the status of women through strategic grantmaking, education and leadership development. It’s an inclusive organization that seeks to improve the lives of all women and girls regardless of background, religion or socioeconomic status.

In the photo, Jane Mosbacher Morris is in the middle, while I’m on the left and my daughter-in-law Jessica Rocher Schwartz is on the right.

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Brutalist Style in Motown

20 Nov

Shane Pliska lives in a glass house. He wakes at dawn and spends hours gazing out of his windows at a forest and a pond. Snapping turtles lay eggs on his yard, and fawns sleep right below his deck. But this isn’t Walden Pond. It’s a suburban cul-de-sac in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

“It’s changed my life,” says Mr. Pliska, 38, president of a family-owned plant and interior-landscaping company. “It gives me clarity of mind.”

The house, which was built in 1956, wasn’t for sale. So he asked a real-estate agent to keep a close watch. When the home was listed—and marketed as a teardown—Mr. Pliska immediately offered $5,000 over the asking price and bought it in 2012 for $230,000.

The home, a 1,890-square-foot glass-and-wood rectangular box on 1.3 acres, was designed by Edwin William de Cossy, a former instructor at Yale University who had studied under Paul Rudolph, known for his Brutalist style. The cost of construction at the time: $30,000.

To better understand the architect’s vision, Mr. Pliska traveled by train to Connecticut to meet Mr. de Cossy, who was wearing a tie and white racing gloves when he picked him up at the New Canaan train station in a vintage black Mercedes. Over lunch, Mr. de Cossy explained that the style of the house was partly influenced by his work on modern homes in Florida in the 1950s and partly by the time he’d spent hanging out with Philip Johnson at his Glass House in New Canaan. “It’s a dream site,” says Mr. de Cossy, 89, adding that he built it originally for his brother-in-law, Leo Calhoun, who owned a Ford dealership outside Detroit.

Mr. Pliska lived in the house without changing anything for about two years. Then one stormy night, he heard a loud boom and felt shaking as a giant oak tree punctured his flat roof. The redwood roof beams saved the house from complete collapse.


 A modern Italian Scavalini kitchen inside Shane Pliska’s home in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
PHOTOS: BRIAN KELLY PHOTOGRAPHY FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
 Mr. Pliska bought the 1,890-square-foot glass-and-wood rectangular box on 1.3 acres in 2012 for $230,000.
“It was in a pretty sad state,” says Roman Bonislawski, the co-owner of Birmingham, Mich.-based architectural firm Ron & Roman who led the $300,000 renovation, which took two years to complete. The project includes new windows, replacing the cork flooring with slate in the living-room conversation pit, redoing the bathrooms and bumping out the master bedroom to add a small balcony. Mr. Pliska picked a modern Italian Scavalini kitchen (paying a discounted $35,000 because it was a floor model) with reflective avocado-green glass cabinets and put in new decks made of composite materials in front and out back.

What didn’t change was Mr. de Cossy’s fundamental design. The house is raised on a pedestal with redwood beams that cantilever out from below on all four sides and on top to hold up the roof, giving it a floating illusion. All the rooms are visible from the exterior except the bathrooms, one of which is enclosed by the kitchen wall and the other by the fireplace chimney.

The younger Mr. Pliska oversaw the building of a new glass-enclosed headquarters with a plant-adorned courtyard that doubles as a wedding-venue business. “He really changed things,” says Larry Pliska, 72, who still works there.

Shane Pliska’s neighborhood has also changed: It was once a laboratory for modern design, inspired by the nearby art academy Cranbrook, which owns the Eliel Saarinen Art Deco-style Saarinen House. Now, existing houses are torn down to make way for large new structures that Mr. Pliska calls “Barbie castles.”

Still, some Midcentury Modern homeowners there have tried to preserve an element of the past, gathering regularly for cocktails to admire each other’s architecture and discuss design. Neighbor Nancy Lockhart says one thing about Mr. Pliska’s house remains unchanged: A feral tabby cat cared for by the former owner, an artist named Fern Tate, still sleeps under the house and roams the neighborhood. They take turns feeding the cat, which they named Fern.

In the early 1950s, fresh out of the army with no college education, Edwin William de Cossy started designing modern homes in St. Petersburg, Fla. His work caught the eye of Paul Rudolph, who became one of the central figures of postwar American architecture, and the two began collaborating.

Mr. de Cossy earned a degree in architecture from Yale University in 1957, where he later became an instructor. As a principal with Douglas Orr, de Cossy, Winder & Associates, Mr. de Cossy designed a number of significant buildings, including the Knights of Columbus Museum in New Haven.

Mr. de Cossy’s career lagged until 1975, when he resurfaced as a builder of wooden sailboats. He had a comeback five years ago, designing several homes, and is now retired, currently building a 20-foot cruising sailboat with his daughter in North Branford, Conn.

 

Julia, the Ambassador

17 Oct

Julia Louis-Dreyfus wears the perfect tee. It’s not because it was designed by Wes Gordon of Carolina Herrera — although that’s a plus. It’s because 100 percent of this $35 T-shirt goes to charity.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus is the 2018 Saks Fifth Avenue Key to the Cure Ambassador, where this shirt is sold.

“I’m a breast cancer survivor so that is a huge part of my involvement with Saks’ Key To The Cure,” stated KTTC Ambassador Julia Louis-Dreyfus. “And, I’m absolutely thrilled that the AiRS Foundation is the beneficiary of the sales of the limited edition Key To The Cure t-shirt. Every penny from the t-shirt sales benefits the foundation, which helps women who are unable to afford breast reconstruction surgery post-mastectomy.”

I had to order this t-shirt at my local Saks store. The website said it was sold out, but there is a wait list. Note: It runs very small!

 

Memorable Memoirs

7 Oct

These two timely, immigrant stories transported me to countries I will never visit –Yeman and North Korea. The stories are compelling, suspenseful and inspiring.

Hyeonseo Lee grows up in North Korea revering the leader.
When she becomes a teenager, she sees that others are hungry and senses something is wrong. She walks across a frozen river to China. There she finds a new world and a new life on the run. Her identity needs to change often in order to be safe.

Mohammed Al Samawi is a devout Muslim in Yemen, but he becomes curious about other faiths when he reads the Bible. He connects on social media with Christians and Jews. He then receives death threats for communicating with the enemy. He escapes with the help of his new interfaith friends.

 

On the Fringe

24 Aug

I just returned from Edinburgh — a fairy-tale city. It happened to be the annual Fringe Festival. It’s a visual treat and celebration of arts and culture. The entire city participates from street performers to live plays to booths selling books, fashion and art. Artists and authors are abound in this cabaret setting.

What’s the best selling point? It’s for the entire family — all ages. I personally went to see Kafka for Kids with my granddaughter. Yes, it was a Kafkaesque experience — fun, delightful and meaningful. (Not sure Franz had that in mind!)

The New York Times reports the 2018 Carol Tambor Best of Edinburgh Award is the play Ulster American by David Ireland. The play ponders “how men are reacting to a world in which women are increasingly empowered.”

This play was one of 1,000 plays from the Fringe this summer. For more award news from the New York Times, please click here.

If you love theater and culture, the 2019 Fringe Festival should be on your travel wish list.

Better than Butter!

24 Jul

So you want to eat healthy? Former Motowner  and family friend Aidan Altman along with his partner Andrew McClure have created a product that’s vegan, healthy and a butter substitute. You know that gooey liquid found in a can of chickpeas? Well, they have combined it with coconut oil to make Faba Butter.

It was recently on the Today show as one of 15 new healthy snacks this summer.

The New York Times just featured Faba Butter in the article, “I can’t believe it’s chickpeas,” by Florence Fabricant. Read it here for more details as it’s even effective for sauteing and or just perfect with a baguette.

 

 

Heat Wave Rescue

4 Jul

I was in the parking lot last week and a man frantically asked me to stop. He wanted to use my cell phone because his toddler was locked in the car. The temperature was more than 90 outside, and he explained that he was using his mother’s car. He inadvertently locked his cell phone and keys inside. So, I gave him my cell phone. He called his wife. Of course, she did not pick up because she thought it was a robo call. We both decided it was time to call 9-1-1. He did, and the police and fire rescue came within 5 minutes.

Then with long instruments, the rescuers worked on both sides of the car. The toddler was not crying yet, but we were all upset because of the heat. Thank goodness there was a happy ending for this family.

It’s been so hot lately and this can happen to anyone. So, please be safe!

It’s interesting that some people thought I should not have gotten involved. They thought that it could have been a scam.

What would you have done?

Happy Socks!

25 Apr

 

Photo: Paul Morse, AP

 

 

Doesn’t Everyone Have a Crazy Aunt or Uncle?

8 Mar

 

Well, meet The Mighty Franks, a memoir by Michael Frank. With wit and charm Frank weaves the tale of his storybook Hollywood family. They are all a bit wacky and mostly loving at times.  His parents, aunts and uncles are all siblings, while the grandmothers live together.  Everyone lives close by, and it’s an eccentric enclave. The family dynamics are compelling, comical and hurtful, which is why there is a possibility of a TV mini-series. Without giving away the plot, let’s just say the special aunt goes overboard.

I had the opportunity to meet with the author on his recent book tour. He is a charming as the book. He tells me his next book is fiction. I’m looking forward to more zany characters.

Superhero Alert! It’s a Dad with MS

22 Feb

Max Melamed, age 13, wrote and illustrated the book Who is El Pitlum Rossicles? He wrote the book as part of his Bar Mitzvah project. (When Jewish children are 13, they often choose or are required to complete a social action project to make the world a better place.)  The story of “grit and perservance” is about a superhero who has Multiple Sclerosis (MS). The superhero is actually the father in the story, who is underestimated by the family because of his disease. He helped everyone in the town, and no one suspected him because of his condition.

It’s a personal story for Max because his father does have MS. Another reason Max wrote the book was to inspire others who might have a family member with this disease. Profits from the book go to help find a cure for MS. Max will personally send a copy of his book to anyone who donates $18 or more to the National MS Society.  For more information about Max’s book click here.

As Max states, “If your mom or dad has MS, don’t stress because they can be heroes and you can help too!”

The title of the book is an anagram. What do you think it spells?

 

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